BKW Theatre Troupe pulls together — onstage and off — to put on “The Music Man”

The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider

Ya Got Trouble! Professor Harold Hill, played by Zane Valachovic, far right, warns the townsfolk — including the pretentious mayor’s wife, Eulalie M. Shinn, played by Laura Simpson, center right — of the dangers posed by a new pool table. Hill’s goal in the show is to convince the town to pay him to teach the local youth to play music in order to keep them out of trouble, but he doesn’t know how to teach music.

BERNE — Although the seats of the secondary school auditorium were relatively empty, there was a flurry of activity during the first of three dress rehearsals for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Theater Troupe’s production of “The Music Man,” which opens Friday night. Students, teachers, parents, and band members filed in and out of the auditorium Tuesday night in preparation.

Peter Hemingway, a BKW student, was operating the sound board at the end of the auditorium under the guidance of technology teacher Jeff Harvey. Nicolas Collorafi and Samantha Filkins, who are running the lights for the show, discussed cues and wondered where the master script had gone.

Another student from stage crew recalled a scenario when the school did “Foot Loose” and a girl on roller skates fell and broke a piece of scenery. Despite dancers doing cartwheels across the stage, there was hope that there wouldn’t be a similar situation. Other crew members adjusted set pieces on stage.

Cast members, along with director Coriellen Travis, also filtered in and out of the auditorium. A girl in a period dress picked up a turquoise backpack and a pizza box and carried it out of the auditorium. Laura Simpson, who was dressed for her role as socialite Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn, handed sheets of paper to a younger cast member and asked her to bring it to girls on the softball team.

The mother of Zane Valachovic, the male lead, brought in the board game Monopoly, with some confusion about why the students needed it. Her son explained how much time there would be waiting backstage.

The band, conducted by former high school principal Brian Corey, practiced the overture. Travis asked Leonard Tobler, on percussion, how well he could do a train sound for the opening scene.

The show is directed by Travis, the secondary-school music teacher. This will be her 15th year directing the troupe.

“The Music Man” centers around a small Iowa town in which a con artist, played by Valachovic, attempts to trick parents into paying him for music lessons for the town’s youth, even though he has no experience teaching music. Travis said she chose the musical for this year’s production because she felt there was the right mix of students for the cast. The cast and crew totals 75 students this year.

Valachovic is playing the con man Harold Hill. Opposite him is Cailyn Toomey who is playing the town librarian, Marian Paroo.

Valachovic said he is well-versed in playing a con artist. He played the character Rooster during the school’s production of “Annie.” He also watched a lot of Matthew Broderick, he said, who played Hill in a 2003 movie version of the show.

“I just love being someone who I’m not,” he said.


The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
76 trombones — and flute players: Residents of River City, Iowa, jump for joy at the prospect of their children receiving music lessons. Later, some cartwheeled.


This is his seventh year with the BKW Theatre Troupe. In real life, he is a BKW senior who will study education in college with the hopes of becoming a music teacher. He plans to stay involved in theater.

For Simpson, it was watching a lot of Julia Child, to get attuned to the exaggerated speech of Shinn, she said. Her character is the mayor’s wife, and is often seen in a large feathered hat with a group of other women from the small town with her.

This is her fifth year in a school production. A foot injury kept her from participating for a couple of years.

“When I was finally able to go onstage I was so excited to start,” she said.

Next year, she’ll be at Hudson Valley Community College studying biotechnology.

Kristen Norray, who plays Mrs. Paroo, the librarian’s Irish mother, looked up videos on YouTube to master the accent, she said.


The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Striking a pose: Student cast and crew wait near the side entrance of the Berne-Knox-Westerlo auditorium. The classrooms and hallways serve as dressing rooms and waiting areas for the students, with some practicing choreography in the halls.


She’s been in four productions, starting in sixth grade but taking a break in between to focus on school sports, as she hopes to play soccer in college. She is going to study architecture at Roger Williams University. She first started acting with her father in the Hilltowns Players, at age 5.

Toomey, a junior, said she has been acting since she was 8 years old when she was in Rensselaerville’s Good Cause Club’s production of “Seussical the Musical.” This is her sixth year in a school production.

In the show, Toomey’s character, the librarian Marian Paroo, is pursued by Hill. She at first resists his attempts but then the two fall for each other.

The chemistry, said the students, isn’t difficult. They have spent time together on and off stage. There are inside jokes, like a shoe that Norray had as a prop when she played Miss Hannigan in the production “Annie” that seems to reappear at random backstage, or a phrase said in class that prompts a line or lyric from the show to be blurted out.


The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Kiss for mother: Librarian Marian Paroo, left, played by Cailyn Toomey, gives a kiss to her mother, played by Kristen Norray. Her mother later lectures her for not yet finding a husband.


Simpson and Norray both hope that, once they are less busy, that they can continue acting as adults.

The students said they’ve learned responsibility, time management, and especially confidence from their experience.

Sitting in the audience looking over the script, Collarafi and Filkins watched the rehearsal to pick up on lighting cues.

Filkins, who started helping backstage last year, said one of the best things is getting free admission to the performances.

“I see how they progress from the first night to the last night, and how they just have fun with it on the third night,” she said.

Filkins convinced Collarafi to join her this year, she said. He can sing and dance, he said, but prefers not to be onstage, and found that working backstage was a way to still participate in theater.


The Enterprise — H. Rose Schneider
Can you play a train sound? Director Coriellen Travis, a Berne-Knox-Westerlo music teacher, asks Leonard Tobler if he can play his drum in the rhythm of train. Travis is directing “The Music Man.”


As rehearsal continued, students waited in the wings — which in this case would be the hallways and classrooms in the secondary school —  some practicing dance moves while they waited.

Travis said she is proud of how the students came through this year, as they started rehearsing two months later than normal and were also delayed by several snowstorms cancelling rehearsal.

In order to make up for lost time, the rehearsals were lengthened — four hours for regular rehearsals and five hours for dress rehearsals — and students worked independently to memorize lines and lyrics. Students also came in on Sundays, and everyone helped out on weekends to paint the set.

She finds it amazing, Travis said, how the students came together despite the odds.


Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” will be performed by the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Theatre Troupe on Friday, March 31, and Saturday, April 1, at 7 p.m.; and on Sunday, April 2, at 3 p.m. at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Secondary School auditorium on 1738 Helderberg Trail, Berne, NY 12023. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, and $7 for children aged 12 and under.

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